“Dizzy” Gillespie Essay

The people of today, raised by the sounds of The Beatles and Pearl Jam have forgotten all about the musicians that paved the way for these artists, and the musical styles that evolved into rock and roll, rhythm and blues and rap or hip hop. Unfortunately the music that once dominated the night clubs, restaurants, and radio stations is now heard only in elevators or when we go to a grandparents house to visit. What is left of jazz are small portions of the music that people take and sample with in a new song. Jazz and its historical figures have mistreated and forgotten by today’s society.

One of the figure most forgotten is John Birks Gillespie, known to the jazz world as “Dizzy” Gillespie. “Dizzy” Gillespie was a trumpet player, composer, bandleader and politician of mostly the early 40’s to mid 50’s. This was a time period in Jazz called Bebop, Bop or sometimes known as Rebop. Bebop got its name from the musical language musicians would speak to one another while trying to explain a rhythm. “Bop, Bop, Doba sho ba, Bop, Bop. ” this was also a common style of singing which was first introduced by Louis Armstrong, called scatting (Kerfeld, 137).

This fast tempo music was pioneered by saxophonist Charlie Parker, drummer Max Roach, pianist Thelonious Monk and trumpeter “Dizzy” Gillespie. Gillespie was one of the chief innovators of this new style of music as well as an important figure to all musicians to follow him and international figure for the United States. (Kerfeld, 137) John Birks was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on October 21, 1917. The young prodigy was first introduced to music by his father, a weekend bandleader. Gillespie’s father was not as talented as John was to become, he relied on a more stable income as mason around their home own.

Four years after his fathers death, when Birks was 14, he began learning the trombone and trumpet without any formal instruction. Recognized by the staff at Laurinberg Institute, in North Carolina, as a prodigy, he was given a scholarship to be a member of the band in 1932. Throughout his stay at the Laurinberg Institute he studied vigorously both the trumpet and piano, building him self a long road that would constantly pave the way to something valuable, new, and historic (Kerfeld, 428).

Gillespie did not know that he would become a pioneer in a new style called Bebop, or that he would become a role model for other musicians that followed. Like all musicians today, Gillespie studied the works and styles of other performers, and composers. Gillespie admired the style and work of Roy Elridge so much that he started to sound like Elridge. Some time later Gillespie was hired in a band because he played with Elridge=s style so well. In his studies he would transcribe or learn the notes and phrases that Elridge would play during his solos (Powis, 58).

Although to become a Jazz musician, Gilllespie did not idolize only jazz musicians, he also greatly enjoyed listening to and examining the styles of musicians like Stravinsky, a virtuoso composer of the classic period, and Maurice Ravel another composer, famous for works like “Bolero”, a piece that consisted of a phrase that repeated over and over, each time getting louder and thicker (Powis, 58). Dizzy unfortunately was to be later recognized by many for his many distinguishable trademarks instead of the musical proficiency he worked so hard for.

He was famous for his sense of humor. At a performance Dizzy asked the audience if he could introduce the band. The audience replied swiftly “yes”. He than began introducing the saxophone player to the drummer and the trumpet player to the trombonist and so forth (Wastrous, January 17). He also expressed his incredible humor within his music as well. In his own interpretation of the spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Gillespie develops the song into “Swing low Sweet Cadillac. ” He had changed the lyrics to suit his comic personality.

He sang in the new song these more modern and jest words. I looked over Jordan, and what did I see, Come for to carry me home? Oh! an Elderado, coming after me, Coming for to carry me home. His jest and relaxed attitude is what won him the name “Dizzy” (Yardley, 2). He was given the nick by one of his earlier band leaders, Teddy Hill, because of his clothing style and loose attitude toward everything (Watrous, January 7). Other identifying characteristics were his enormous cheeks which would inflate like balloons as he took in air while he playing.

Dizzy was also recognizably the only trumpeter ever to have a trumpet with its bell or flaring part, up turned at a 45 degree angle. He discovered this new idea when somebody fell on his trumpet at a party. He picked it up and tried it, and fell in love with its unique sound (Levy, 1). However “Diz” did not discover his new style of trumpet until after the Bebop period was well on its way to extinction. Before the quick pace, explosive sound of Bebop Gillespie had to make a name for him self. In Philadelphia he played with a big band lead by Frankie Fairfax. From Philadelphia he moved to New York in 1937.

In New York, one of the focal points for jazz at that time, Gillespie played with the Teddy Hill Band. He was given the position in this band because he sounded like one of his influences, Roy Elridge (Kerfeld, 428). Playing with Hills band Gillespie traveled throughout Europe. Once he returned to New York Gillespie got his first big gig, as a trumpeter in Cab Calloway’s band. During 1939, a time still unequal for blacks and whites, Cab Calloway. had the highest paying black band around town (Gleason, 151). Gillespie on several occasions got together with Charlie Parker to write and jam around on a few songs.

In after hour sessions, the to soon to be legends took old popular pieces and expanded them to new compositions. The melodies were intricate and explosive but were based on the harmonic structures of old songs. “Anthropology” , now one standard songs every jazz musician should know, was based on a piece composed earlier by George Gershwin. This song by Gershwin entitled “I Got Rhythm” would become the harmonic background for many song in which Gillespie would copy its pattern. The harmonic pattern of these standard changes begins with two chords in each measure.

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